An Early Peek At Our Favorite Music Of 2012 : All Songs Considered We're still in the final stages of making our list, but we agree enough on a few albums to share this preview of NPR Music's favorite albums of the year. Audie Cornish talks to Frannie Kelley, Stephen Thompson and Tom Huizenga.

An Early Peek At Our Favorite Music Of 2012

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Happy Thanksgiving. This is the time of year to take stock, to give thanks for those things you appreciate: friends, family. And if you're a music critic, it's time to look back at the year in music.




CORNISH: That's Carly Rae Jepsen, Gotye and the band Fun. All dominated the charts this year. Were they really turning out the best music of 2012? Our friends at NPR Music have been hard at work figuring out their favorite albums of the year. And for a preview, we're joined now by three members of the NPR Music team. We've got Tom Huizenga, the classical music producer. Hey there, Tom.


CORNISH: Frannie Kelley, writer and editor, covers hip-hop and R&B.


CORNISH: And Stephen Thompson. Hi there, Stephen. Doing rock and pop, I think.


CORNISH: Well, you guys are in the midst of actually deciding doing all the fighting upstairs, right, about your favorite music of the year.

KELLEY: Turbulent time. Of course.

THOMPSON: These are difficult days for NPR Music.

CORNISH: And we asked all of you to bring two albums that you think are actually going to make the list, all right, a little - just a little preview. And I want to jump right into it. And, Tom, let's start with you. What made the list?

HUIZENGA: Well, one release I'm just been in awe of is a DVD release of a concert performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion."


HUIZENGA: The performance is by the Berlin Philharmonic. Pop this in your DVD player. Three hours later, your life will change.

CORNISH: Three hours.

HUIZENGA: It's a long piece.

CORNISH: What makes it remarkable?

HUIZENGA: Well, I - have you ever been to, like, a movie, a play, a concert where it's over and you're speechless, you're in tears, and something has happened to you?

CORNISH: No. But it sounds like...


KELLEY: Oh, my God.

CORNISH: ...this is the time.

HUIZENGA: I don't feel - I don't really feel joy.

THOMPSON: You've got to get out more.

HUIZENGA: Well, that's what happened to me after watching this performance. And what is special about it is this performance has been semi-staged by Peter Sellars, a radical director who's, like, known for doing things like staging Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in Harlem. He has actually required the choristers to actually memorize all the parts to free them up from looking at the sheet music, and they can actually move around on stage as actors. And this really pulls you so much deeper into the music, into the drama. And it becomes not just a performance. It becomes almost more like a ritual.


HUIZENGA: I just want to make one thing clear, that, you know, religious convictions aside, I think that the - you know, this music, with all of its sweetness and its suffering and its strength, really, I mean, it tells more of a universal story of hope, of loss and of possibilities for the future.

CORNISH: Well, what's interesting is the kind of sweetness and suffering and emotion, all these words you're using are also words I've heard to describe your next pick, which is going to sound very different.

HUIZENGA: That's true. It's from Sharon Van Etten.


CORNISH: How did she end up on your list, actually? I'm a little surprised to see her there.

HUIZENGA: Well, you know, man cannot live by classical music alone.


HUIZENGA: I listen to a lot of music. And this record is really just about tops on my list. And her first record was only in 2009. And now, with "Tramp," this record released early in 2012, I think that we're seeing an artist peaking.


CORNISH: Frannie, what do you think about the year? I'm interested to hear what music you brought because I feel like there's always this kind of perennial handwringing, in hip-hop in particular, about the state of the scene.

KELLEY: I think it's the year of the vet, honestly. As much as there's been a whole bunch of talk about some really great newcomers, I think this Killer Mike album was probably the best.


KELLEY: He's been around for over 10 years, sort of working in Atlanta with that Outkast family. What he put out this year, "R.A.P Music," he just came at it right, and he's just like fluent at rapping. He's also sort of become a man. He talks a lot about growing up. And you hear him grapple with mistakes that he's made and overcome and want to push his listeners to move with him


CORNISH: That's Killer Mike out of Atlanta. And, Frannie, who is the other vet you had on your list.

KELLEY: Bobby Womack with Damon Albarn of Blur and Richard Russell of a label called XL. On this record, too, even though it's a collaboration, you really hear Bobby Womack, like right up front.


KELLEY: And this is a guy who was behind the scenes for a long time. He was Sam Cooke's protege, and then he wrote songs for a whole bunch of people. You know, he wrote...

CORNISH: And he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, I think in only 2009.

KELLEY: Only a few years ago. Yeah, exactly. But - and then, you know, sometimes that means the end of the road. That's like the cap on your career. And this album proves that he's not done, he hasn't slowed down. He's paying attention to everything.


CORNISH: You know, Frannie, what's interesting about hearing this is there's a strain of pop music, of younger artists trying to kind of mimic or emulate those soul sounds.

KELLEY: Get retro with it.


CORNISH: And here, it's the reverse, essentially.

KELLEY: Yeah, Bobby Womack actually told WEEKENDS ON ALL THINGS CONSIDERED that he didn't recognize himself all the time on this album.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And, I mean, it's definitely an overarching theme. And it's a theme of - really, any good year for music is when you have musicians of every generation sort of reaching beyond themselves. And, you know, so much of my favorite music of this year, it is not content to be what it is on the surface. And, you know, one of the records that I brought that I think we sort of all agreed on the entire music scene as a great record is "Channel Orange" by Frank Ocean.


THOMPSON: He's a guy who's been bubbling up for, you know, for a few years, you know, where everybody has kind of been operating under the assumption that he's going to break out and become a huge star. And that's what happened in 2012. My experience with this record sort of began with the song "Thinking About You," and I just became endlessly smitten with it, you know, where I would sing along with it in the car in a way that would just curdle all the milk within 10 miles.


THOMPSON: But, you know, but I just - I, you know, I fell in love with kind of the vulnerability of the song and the emotion of the song. In about two minutes of the song, he hits the bridge and there are these beautiful sounds kind of hitting underneath them that just punch me in the guts.


THOMPSON: I love the way he continuously really kind of tries to get a handle on love. It's this concept that's very uncomfortable and unfamiliar and sort of how to even...

CORNISH: And that is an artist who also come out as bisexual that (unintelligible) also remarked on a lot.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And that undercurrent definitely comes through in, you know, in some songs more than others. It's much more universal than that. It's a very easy peg to hang this record on, but there's a lot more to it than that.

KELLEY: Yeah. It was everybody's make-out mix this year.



CORNISH: So, Stephen, this next group is not - it's not exactly something we would put on our make-out playlist, but it's definitely very energetic, a lot of fun. It's Japandroids.

THOMPSON: Yes. Japandroids, it's a duo from Vancouver, and it's called "Celebration Rock."


THOMPSON: There's good music, there's great music, and there's awesome music. And the Japandroids record is the awesomest album of 2012.


CORNISH: Hearing all of you talk about your picks, you're all pretty emotional about it. And I'm wondering how you actually decide what makes the cut. Frannie.

KELLEY: I mean, it's kind of crazy because you start - as you look back at the year in music, you start thinking about your life that year. You know, I turned 30 this year, and so I'm really into these albums where people are like older is better, like, something like that. (Unintelligible).


HUIZENGA: I've been to that.

THOMPSON: Yeah, me too.

CORNISH: For you, Tom?

HUIZENGA: You know, I just go for - Stephen mentioned awesome. I just go for awesomeness. I think of all the years I put mixtapes together for friends and stuff like that, and you need to start up a mixtape with something really, really awesome. I mean, it's almost like some kind of drug.

CORNISH: So it's the idea that you actually - you have to want to share because there's something...

HUIZENGA: Absolutely.

CORNISH:, but you don't necessarily want to share it.

THOMPSON: Well, I mean, writing about music is a little bit like writing about your friends. You want to play matchmaker with it a little bit. And so, you know, you wind up investing music with a lot of feelings, you know, because getting people into music is - I mean, Tom used the phrase like a drug - it's like a drug. When I attach to a record, it's like falling in love.

HUIZENGA: Oh, yeah. Ask my wife about those type of things.


HUIZENGA: When the record gets played again and again and again and again and again and again.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, in some ways, music is so much better than people.


HUIZENGA: Speak for yourself.

CORNISH: Well, you guys, best of luck with coming up with the rest of the music that's going to make the favorite music of the year list. Stephen Thompson, Frannie Kelley and Tom Huizenga, thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Audie.

KELLEY: Thank you, Audie.

HUIZENGA: Great to be here.


CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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